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Fixed-Gear Bikes Gaining Popularity Amongst Chinese And Expat Riders Alike

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A recent article in Jing Daily about fixed wheel bicycle culture in Beijing, including fixie bike polo, has whet my appetite for and nudged me ever closer to ditching my 21 gear mountain bike in favor of a single speed, fixed-gear road bike. I’ll admit it: there’s something beautifully elegant and minimalistic about fixed-gear bikes. They are usually devoid of mechanical complication, with the most fanatical fixie purists eschewing even brakes (something that I cannot fathom in the sudden stop and go nature of Shanghai city riding). With no cables, gear levers, derailleurs, or shock absorbers to add weight, complexity, and clutter up the visual purity of the bike, you’re left with a beautifully clean geometric shape.

Because of what fixed-gear bikes do without, even a steel framed bike is relatively light weight. Combined with the exacting control the rider gets from being totally and always connected with the bike (no freewheel spinning means your legs are always connected to the bike and always moving), and the purity of feeling everything the bike is doing, the riding experience is viscerally tactile and known to be addictive – and fast! It’s not unusual to see fixie riders darting in and out of traffic. It looks scary, but experienced fixie riders are always aware of their surroundings and what their bikes are doing.

The difference between riding a fixed-gear bike versus a multi-gear bike is a bit analogous to the experience of driving a manual transmission sports car compared with an automatic transmission sedan. The sedan is more comfortable, but the driver is less connected with the machine, and thus, less engaged. There’s no eating French fries or texting while driving a stick shift sports car – you have to pay attention, and that attention is rewarded in the driving experience. I’ve always been a stick shift car guy, so I guess it’s time for me to sell my ‘sedan’ and get back to driving – er riding – a ‘sports car’ :-)

As enjoyable as it was to read about Beijing’s fixed-gear culture, China’s capital city does not have the monopoly on fixed-gear bike culture. Shanghai’s fixie culture was featured in a City Weekend article last year. Fixed-gear bike culture is becoming fashionable – quite literally: Shanghai Tang has even collaborated with Colossi Cyling to produce a limited edition fixie bike, available at their Shanghai Tang Mansion on Duddell Street in Hong Kong, or ordered online.

For those of us who can’t quite afford the Shanghai Tang bike’s HK$10,800 price tag, there are many local bike builders who offer beautiful, high quality, and most importantly – customizable fixed-gear and single speed bikes. One of Shanghai’s local leaders in fixed-gear bicycles is Factory Five. They’ve just launched a new website, and through September 30, are offering free delivery throughout mainland China. Luckily for me, I live in Shanghai, and I think I’ll be taking a trip in the near future to their Jiangsu Lu shop.

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